December 21, 2014

The Gita Mystery

Shyamal Chakrabarty

THE BJP is treading a familiar path. This time its agenda is to declare the Bhagavad Gita the 'National Book'. This demand has been voiced by senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, presently the country's foreign minister. In her statement to the media, one gets two terms - 'National Book' and 'National Scripture'. Call a rose by any name it will spread the same scent. Or rather, in reality, what will spread is the stench. Baba Ramdev and the newly-elected Chief Minister of Haryana have supported Sushmaji with their hands held high. The declaration was made from the Lal Quila, which is now apparently the BJP's familial inheritance. Previously the Prime Minister would address the nation from the Lal Quila on a specific day. Now anyone can lecture from this platform, as long as he or she is a BJP card holder.

Apparently, the Gita was raised to the status of 'National Book' by a single touch of Barack Obama the moment Prime Minister Narendra Modi gifted a copy of the religious text to the US President.


Constitution and Secularism

How can a religious text be the 'National Book' or 'National Scripture'? Does India have a 'National Religion'? No, because India is constitutionally a secular nation, a multi-religious country. A specific religious scripture cannot be claimed to be the 'National Book' of a secular nation. The very term 'secular' implies that the state will have no religion. The state will be run by the Constitution and religion will remain the personal choice of the citizens. Any person on their own can follow, or not follow, their religion in whatever manner they choose. No religion can be imposed upon him or her. Yet, though we are a secular nation, many of our national leaders and government officials breach secular values in various ways. Visiting temples and mosques has become a part of their daily work schedule. Following rituals like breaking coconuts and consulting astrology ahead of a government construction project is a regular affair. Any ordinary citizen can do all of this. But, can they who are in charge of upholding the Constitution of a secular country? Indeed, can there be anything of the nature of a 'National Book' in the first place? There can be epics to be proud of, like the Illiad, the Odyssey, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. But these are epics, just that - in no way relevant as 'National Books'.

The Chief Minister of Haryana has stated that the Gita is above everything, even the Constitution. Does a person who has been appointed minister by the Constitution have the right to make such a claim? The Constitution must be followed by all, irrespective of faith or community. Disobeying it attracts punishment in the eyes of the law. Just as there can be no such thing as a 'National Book', similarly no book can be placed above the Constitution.


                Facts and Fiction

Now, what was the occasion for raising such a demand? According to the organisations that preach Hindutva, this is the 5,151th year of the Gita. This implies that the Gita was written five thousand one hundred and fifty-one years ago. How is that possible? 5,151 years ago means before the time of the fully developed Harappan Civilisation. Around five thousand years ago, in and about 3000 BC the Harappan Civilisation had reached the pinnacle of development. That was the Bronze Age. Iron was yet to be discovered then, and the Iron Age had not begun. According to historians, the downfall of this civilisation was finalised by 1,500 BC. The Aryans came to India at about the same era. When the Aryans came to India they had no script. Then how was the Gita written fifteen hundred years before even that time? Who wrote it? Harappa was built by a people preceding the Aryans. Their script has never been deciphered. After the coming of the Aryans, the Vedas were composed and propagated from mouth to mouth. It took another thousand years before the Vedas could be written down. The Vedas, the Upanishads, Puranas, Manu Samhita and the Gita were written down in the fourth century BC. The task of collecting, editing and refining these texts continued till the second century BC.

Why was the question of Bronze Age or Iron Age raised? The archaeological findings at Harappa and Mohenjodaro have led archaeologists to the widely accepted conclusion that these are from the Bronze Age. Archaeologists are also unanimous about the fact that the Iron Age succeeded the Bronze Age. This is the age when iron was discovered and put to use. The invention of the sickle and axe made of iron, in the Iron Age, made it possible to clear forests and start farming in the Ganga-Yamuna valley. Readers will remember the story of the Pandavas setting fire to the forest. According to the calendar, this would fall in the first millennium before the Christ.

The Iron Age comes into the discourse because all the stories of the Mahabharata belong to this age. The Kurukshetra war also belongs to the Mahabharata - the great war between the Pandavas and Kauravas. Krishna supposedly told Arjuna the Bhagavad Gita in the run up to the war. But according to historians, the Bhagavad Gita was later attributed to Krishna to make it more popular. This plan to put the words of the Gita into Krishna's mouth to make them more popular was well thought out. At that time faith towards Krishna was at its height, and Krishna was the most popular "god" of the land.

A reading of the Rig Veda tells us that after their arrival in the subcontinent, the Aryans were constantly at war with the inhabitants of the Harappan Civilisation. Though initially it was Aryan versus non-Aryans, as time passed there were Aryans and non-Aryans on both sides (the Rig Veda describes this in detail in the war of ten kings). At the beginning, the leader of these battles was the Aryan leader 'Indra'. But later, Krishna has been referred to as the leader of the mixed group of Aryans and non-Aryans. It is important to note that 'Indra' or 'Krishna' do not refer to one specific individual. Initially all Aryan war heroes were honoured as 'Indra'. On the other side, first the non-Aryan leaders and later the leaders of all Aryan and non-Aryan forces opposed to 'Indra' were called 'Krishna'. The attentive reader will note that there is a time span of five to six hundred years or so since the Rig Veda till the Mahabharata. In these five-six hundred years, 'Krishna' emerges as the most popular deity of Aryavarta. The worship of Indra declines. The most notable reason for this transformation is that Indra was the deity of the herders, and Krishna was the god of the farmers. Later on, the worship of Radha prevalent in the east added to the following of Krishna making the deity even more powerful an influence. Krishna was then considered the most powerful in this land of many gods, and it came naturally that the Bhagavad Gita would be told through him to ensure it easier popular acceptance.

So now, even if we for the sake of the argument, accept the opinion that the Gita was written at the time of the Mahabharata, even then can the Gita be 5,151 years' old? The age of the Gita can at the most be two-and-a-half thousand years. The Manu Samhita and the Gita were composed to theoretically buttress Brahminical dominance from the ideological onslaught of Buddhism. Now the question is, is the story of the Mahabharata true? Did the battle of Kurukshetra occur? Both the Sanskrit epics -- the Ramayana and the Mahabharata -- are held in high reverence. Many on the basis of literature have claimed their stories to be true.


Epic History

We have a rich heritage of epic verse. Among these the Mahabharata and the Ramayana are of course rightfully honoured as literary jewels. The Mahabharata describes the great wars among the descendents of Bharat. Alongside the main storyline, however, it has many philosophical, analytical and mythical components. Many have tried to prove the Mahabharata a true record. But they have tried to find proof in literature. If literature does not match the archaeological records it cannot be claimed to have historical value. Noted historian Irfan Habib has written that archaeologist Heinrich Scaleman did some digging at the Turkish city of Troy on which Homer's Illiad is based. At the eighth layer of the city's buildings he found the foundations of a fortress. This city was destroyed by earthquakes but not by any victorious army. After Scaleman's venture many archaeologists in different countries became interested in investigating sites linked by name to the epics, searching for proof of historical links. India was not an exception.

Prof. Habib writes, "A short time after Independence B B Lal, an official of the Archaeological Survey of India, dug at Meerut in Uttar Pradesh on the banks of the Ganga, but no fortress or palace could be found. There were, however, signs of a flood. Successive chiefs of the Survey Department, A Ghosh and D H Gordon and the like did carbon dating tests and discarded B B Lal's theory. Then B B Lal and his supporters started raising questions against the basis of their carbon dating methods." Prof. Habib further states that from the ruins in UP that B B Lal claimed to be from the Iron Age, not even a fragment of iron utensils had been unearthed.

B B Lal next plunged undaunted into archaeological digging at Ayodhya to prove the truth of the Ramayana. But what he found could not possibly be dated before the fourth century AD. It was evident that there were no ruins in Ayodhya dated before the time of Gautama Buddha that could hint at the time span of 'Ramrajatya'. Neither was anything found that could provide a relevant basis for claiming that the age of the Ramayana came before the Mahabharata. Many wars have been fought in the Vedic Age. Historians have estimated that if indeed a battle was waged at Kurukshetra it would have been in around 950 BC. This does not mean, however, that this war was between the Kauravas and Pandavas. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata have never been mentioned in the Vedas or Puranas. So many battles have been described in these two books, yet there is no mention of incidents of the two epics. However hard the extreme nationalists try, how can they prove something that isn't true.


So we have seen that there is no historical basis for claiming that the Gita was written 5,151 years ago. There is only one reason for making this claim. An attempt is being made to prove that the Aryans had not come from outside India. They are the original inhabitants of India and they built the Harappan Civilisation. Real facts say that the Aryans came from outside. There were differences between them and the Harappans. Firstly, horses, domestic to Aryans, were not available to the Indus Valley. Secondly, Aryans used wheels with axles, but in Harappa though there were wheels, axles were unknown. Thirdly, Aryans kept their arrows in tuneers, something not practiced by Harappans. Fourth, Aryans worshiped the fire, sacrificed animals and performed the 'aswamedha' ritual, none of these was being practiced by the Harappans. Fifth, the Harappans had written language, the Aryans only had oral. Sixth, After deciphering the writing of the contemporary Mesopotemian civilisation we have come to know that they called the Harappans 'Meluha' and the land of dark people. In the Rig Veda too two races have been described, one fair, another dark skinned. The Aryans were fair, the Harappans dark. 

The BJP has claimed in their charter of demands that the Aryans created the Hindu faith. In reality they gave rise to the Brahmanya faith. They claim that Sakas, Hunas, and everyone else who have come to India have blended into the Hindu faith, the exception being the Muslims and Christians. They're now saying that you must be a Hindu or live without rights, or leave the country. Their main objective is to prove the Aryans the undisputed ancestral inhabitants of this subcontinent. To achieve this they do not flinch at spreading ridiculous ideas. This is the direction in which they are headed. (EOM)